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Your Reaction: Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser

What did you think of Tim Albery’s production of Wagner's potent early opera?

By Mel Spencer (Senior Editor (Social Media))

27 April 2016 at 12.03pm | 15 Comments

Press reviews:
Telegraph ★★★★
Times (£) ★★★★
The Stage ★★★★
Music OMH ★★★ 1/2
Guardian ★★★
Arts Desk ★★★
Bachtrack ★★★
Evening Standard ★★★
WhatsOnStage ★★★
A Younger Theatre (no star rating, positive)

What did you think of Tannhäuser?
Share your thoughts via the comments below.

Tannhäuser runs until 19 May 2016. Tickets are still available.

The production is staged with generous philanthropic support from Dr and Mrs Michael West, Simon and Virginia Robertson, Maggie Copus, Peter and Fiona Espenhahn, Malcolm Herring, the Tannhäuser Production Syndicate and the Wagner Circle.

By Mel Spencer (Senior Editor (Social Media))

27 April 2016 at 12.03pm

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged by Tim Albery, Production, review, Social Media, tannhäuser

This article has 15 comments

  1. Brendan Quinn responded on 27 April 2016 at 1:26pm Reply

    So looking forward to it after the massive disappointment of Lucia production.

  2. John M. responded on 27 April 2016 at 8:27pm Reply

    I know exactly what you mean. After Monday's disappointing Lucia, finely sung as it was but let down by an overhyped, fatuous production it was like being in another world at Tannhäser. A conductor who really understands the work elicited wonderful playing from the orchestra which sounded amazing. The chorus, too, was on magisterial form. I was a little unprepared for the splendour of Emma Bell's Elisabeth; the depth and power of her singing and portrayal of the role were tremendous. Gerhaher's portrayal of Wolfram was spellbinding, both vocally (what singing!) and dramatically - the depth of his characterisation was jaw-dropping. Seiffert, too, has more than the measure of the role. The power of his voice is also amazing, though I thought he sounded maybe a little tired in parts of his final monologue. The ballet was well done, bringing out the eroticism of the scene and the music. I found the staging even more involving this time round. An evening which shows the RO at its best. I am sure you won't be disappointed.

  3. Stephen Ratcliffe responded on 28 April 2016 at 8:48am Reply

    Loved Emma Bell and Gerhaher, chorus and orchestra excellent too. Less sure about Sophie Koch and Peter Seiffert but in all a good evening.

  4. francois responded on 28 April 2016 at 4:28pm Reply

    I spent a wonderful and unforgettable evening. I already saw this production when it was created, but last night it was musically so outstanding that I was deeply moved throughout the show. Emma Bell, Stephen Milling and Christian Gerhaher are really amazing, as is the conductor Hartmut Haenchen. Some other singers face more difficulties but globally all of them manage to provide that high touch of emotion. Rush to see that production, it is really very good! The 3/5 stars that most newspapers give to it are just ridiculous, it deserves at least 4/5 if not 5/5!

  5. Eric Firkins responded on 3 May 2016 at 6:29am Reply

    I agree with many of the previous comments. The singing of Emma Bell and Christian Gerhaher were first rate. On the whole I liked the production except for the initial choreography for the ballet scene where the dancers were running around with a table and chairs. What that had to do with the Venusburg is beyond me. it just seemed slly.

  6. Gwyneth Macaulay responded on 3 May 2016 at 3:20pm Reply

    The chorus, conductor and orchestra were on top form and particular praise must go to the harp trio and brass and woodwind sections.
    There was especially fine singing by Sophie and Emma (and Raphael) and their characters were well acted and brought out their personalities but the rest of the soloists were wooden and mostly rooted to the spot. In fact the whole production (other than the erotic and imaginative Venusberg ballet) was wooden. And what point is Albery making setting the rest of the of the opera in a bomb site/war zone? Making it "relevant" I suppose..? South Ossetia anyone? Wagner's music is mostly sublime but his sanctimonious libretto in a"modern" production is often cringe making. 4 stars from me for the musical side but none for the production. I'd rather be at a concert performance of this work.

  7. Michael Heiser responded on 3 May 2016 at 3:24pm Reply

    Tannhäuser at the Royal Opera House – 2nd May 2016

    This was a strongly cast Tannhäuser in the capable hands of Hartmut Haenchen. The ROH orchestra and chorus produced a thrilling musical experience. Peter Seiffert in the title role had heroic heft to his voice and always sung with the line of the music and with excitement in his voice – only tiring at the end of Act 2. Emma Bell as Elizabeth was radiant and secure in tone. Christian Gerharer brought a lieder singer’s beauty of tone to the role of Wolfram, particularly in ‘O du, mein holder Abendstern’ in Act 3. The only disappointment among the principals was Sophie Koch as Venus – her voice, whilst beautiful, did not sound seductive enough and she did not act with her voice.
    This was the first time I have seen a staged performance of the opera – this is its first revival and I missed it first time round. It is only a month since I saw Stefan Herrheim’s Meistersinger in Paris and I missed the expert interrogation of German history that Herrheim brings to his Wagner productions. Tim Albery conception is of Venusberg as the proscenium arch of Covent Garden with Venus as a Tosca-like prima donna. In Act 2 Wartburg is in ruins with gun toting soldiers. This can be justified by the text – the Landgrave sings of past bloody battles in his introduction to the song contest. The programme essay justifies this by contrasting the two settings – a land recovering form civil war – Sarajevo came to mind - and a more urban sophisticated setting where art reigns. Thus the sensual content of Venusberg was played down, apart from some stylised writhing in the opening ballet. The problem with that is that you do not feel the scandal of Wartburg when Tannhäuser bursts through all the sensibilities of courtly love by singing of the sensual love of Venusberg. Imagine a small Bavarian town where the prodigal son returns and goes in for a singing contest hoping to win the heart of the girl he left behind him when he went to the big city. It is much easier to imagine the scandal when he suddenly starts singing about the fleshpots of Berlin or Munich than if he sings about going to the opera in those cities…..

  8. Stephen Diviani responded on 3 May 2016 at 6:28pm Reply

    For my money, Christian Gerhaher was the star of the evening, as was the orchestral playing under Hartmut Haenchen. I'd just read Fredric Jameson's essay, 'Eurotrash or Regieoper?', in which he praises Kasper Holten's production of 'Tannhäuser', for Royal Danish Opera, and in the second interval it occurred to me that I would have preferred to have been watching his production over Mr Albery's. Still, it was an enjoyable night at the opera. Thanks.

  9. Richard Linsell responded on 6 May 2016 at 9:57am Reply

    Tannhausser is rightly called an earlier masterpiece and this is a great realisation. The duets and quartets stand out and I sometimes wish the later Wagner used them!
    Loved the brisk tempo that Haenchen adopted yielding momentum that supported the voices well. Emma Bell was on terrific form and Stephen Milling was a memorable Landgrave.

    Sets were a bit dark and I like pilgrims with crosses and not guns, but with choral and orchestral sonorities like we heard just a heartfelt "thank you" to all involved.

  10. Brendan Quinn responded on 8 May 2016 at 8:25pm Reply

    Fabulous evening last Thursday, great Wagnerian singing, Chorus on top notch, orchestra and playing wonderful. ROH my faith is restored in your reputation after the way the company let itself down by allowing Katie Mitchell to drag it's reputation as an international leading opera house into the gutter with Lucia. Onwards and upwards for the ROH

  11. David O'Brien responded on 9 May 2016 at 10:10am Reply

    What a relief after the dire LUCIA! On the musical side both productions were in good hands and were well cast and delivered, but the stagings could not be more different if they tried. Tim Albery's Tannhauser intrigued, suggesting and highlighted all the main ideas in Wagner's work allowing our imaginations to take off from where he left off, whilst Ms Mitchell sledge-hammered her agenda on top of (and against) the Donizetti original. The innate theatricality of this Tannhauser, the use of stage, lighting (aware of ROH sightlines and acoustics) drew us in to the opera,engaging us, as opposed the the alienation, frustration and anger by Ms Mitchell. I loved the rough and tumble of the Venusberg (a hugely difficult scene to pull off despite the glorious music). I hope Ms Mitchell has been given a ticket to see this Tannhauser in the hope she will learn some craft. ..

  12. I thought the production was compelling from start to finish. The opening "Venusberg" ballet scene was evocative of belle epoque decadence & sensuality, but for me the excellent rendition of the Pilgrim's Chorus held it all. And the drama of the gallant & successful 3rd Act leading-man substitution only added to the experience, in all fulfilling a lifelong ambition - to hear Tannhauser at the ROH. Thank you.

    • Margaret Manning responded on 14 May 2016 at 6:22pm

      What a marvellous treat to hear Neal Cooper as Tannhäuser in Act 3 on Thursday. I hope ROH will book him for a leading role very soon.

  13. James Gordon responded on 15 May 2016 at 10:06pm Reply

    Seated behind me this afternoon were a boy and girl of less than 10. Their silence through long periods of a long opera suggested their presence was no miscalculation. Their occasional restiveness was less intrusive than the coughs, mobile phones, dropped plastic bottle tops, rustling sweet wrappers and premature exits of adult audience members, and usually it showed critical acumen. Even the best Landgrave can be mightily tedious at times.

    The young Wagner was changed for life by early exposure to Fidelio, but some might say that Tannhäuser is a less appropriate work for children (shepherd boys excepted, of course). There is much more simulated sex in the opening scene of this production than in the whole of last night's Lucia, yet no one seems bothered by it, not even with the implication that the paying customers of these ballet dancers are opera goers like ourselves.

    Performance-wise, this cast borders on the exceptional. I agree with others who single out Emma Bell and Christian Gerhaher for special praise, but there are no weak links. From a previous comment, it appears that Peter Seiffert may have been unwell recently, which makes his performance today of this ludicrously taxing role all the more remarkable. He sounded strained early on and there were hints of a wobble on sustained high notes, but he must have rested well during the first part of act 3: his Rome narration was almost free of these flaws and he rendered it with harrowing intensity. The chorus, as usual nowadays, was excellent, and Haenchen held everything together with wonderful fluidity.

    To my mind, this is among the best productions in the current ROH repertory. I saw it when it was new and it well repays repeated viewing. Along with Faust, it makes perfect sense of its opera house setting and shows deep understanding not just of the work itself but of its early performance history.

    It is much more sensible to replicate the familiar Covent Garden proscenium for the stage within a stage, rather than reproducing the unfamiliar Paris Opera of the day. The ruined opera house setting of the Wartburg scenes is less expected, but by no means irrational. Just substitute Dresden 1945 for Dresden 1845. The Wartburg itself was distinctly tatty when I first went there in 1991 (complete with classic Eastern Bloc service with a scowl), yet, in its way, it was far more evocative than the tourist trap it has since become. As for the frighteningly sinister portrayal of the Landgrave's followers, it is more than justified by their words and actions in Wagner's text. Here, chivalry and high culture are mere masks for the self-gratification of an elite, with violence never far below the surface. Only Wolfram among them shows genuine nobility and sympathetic understanding, and even he has his Martin Luther moment ("God, help me to banish sin from this hallowed place!").

    The main problem with this piece, as with all Wagner pre-Ring, is its innate confusion as to what sin and redemption actually mean, and where they mean it. Incidental to this is a tendency to present the female characters as polar archetypes of the eternal feminine - sacrificial virgin and femme fatale. A feminist reading of Tannhäuser would be fascinating!

    As for the matinee performance - whatever would the Jockey Club have said, being told they must turn up at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon to eye up their mounts?

  14. martin denny responded on 16 May 2016 at 9:21am Reply

    Our first venture into Wagner. We both loved it have been humming the prelude ever since. The chorus was amazing only matched,in my opinion, by the chorus at glyndebourn's Billy Budd, loved emma bell but no weak spots. I do like the 3 p.m. Sunday performance fits nicely in with our schedule.

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